When did rehab become the “in thing”?

There’s been something about Britney Spears in the news every day this past week; feels like it too. I don’t want to ask if anyone even cares anymore, but aren’t the media going too far with this? It can’t help someone who is self-destructing to see every second of it being analysed on TV. And what’s all this about her parents and friends needing to force her to get help? Yes, they should help, but Spears is 25; they can’t force her to do anything. It’s hypocritical of the media; they say celebrities should be role models, but then can’t have any power in their lives. Unfortunately a part of being in the public eye is having the power to ruin your own life.

A lot of the interest here is voyeuristic, I think; it’s like watching a train wreck – we’re horrified, but can’t look away. It appeals to us on a base level, that it could be us, and it reassures us that we’ve made the right decisions. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why there was so much interest in Anna Nicole Smith’s death as well; the tragedy, her bizarre life, the drama. It’s probably not a coincidence that as Smith’s death was fading, the Spears story broke; one human drama to follow another.

I must admit, when I first heard about the thing with Britney Spears, I thought it was an attempt at career reinvention that had gone wrong. After months of criticism for partying and indecent behaviour, it would make sense that if she wanted to reinvent her career, she’d want to reinvent her image as well. That was the head-shaving, and I’m still not convinced that wasn’t for publicity. But since then everything has really spiralled out of control. And now she’s supposed to be in rehab again.

I don’t understand this trend of treating rehab as a trivial matter. Anyone who has survived an addiction will tell you it’s a hard, difficult slog – anything but trivial. Yet you wouldn’t know that. Celebrities seem to be checking in to rehab at will and it’s being glorified by E! News and the media. Would they all just wake up to reality? Not only are they setting a bad example, they’re treating something very serious with utter disdain. It’s gone from Mel Gibson and Robin Williams being treated for alcoholism, to Linsay Lohan, Kate Moss, Ashley Judd in the past, and now even singer Robbie Williams. And Mia Freedman’s column in The Sun-Herald said that Isaiah Washington from Grey’s Anatomy was admitted to rehab for homophobia. To my knowledge there’s no 30-day program which can help you get over homophobia. Taking an issue like that and making a mockery out of it is deplorable.

What worries me is that this is going to change the way we view addictions in society. Suddenly flirting with drugs, alcohol, sex, racism won’t mean anything; we’ll always be able to get “help”. And if we lose our way, we just go back. But rehab is serious; getting over life-changing abuses, putting your life back together again, is one of the hardest things anybody can do. To treat that trivially and make it socially acceptable is awful; having no respect for the people who struggle with it is even worse.

I hope people like Britney Spears who need help get it; but they should know that if they use something as serious as rehabilitation for publicity, then their careers are over. Some people will think it’s cool, but others will remember how they didn’t take it seriously, how shallow they were, and we won’t forget it.

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